Ostriches are one of the most unique birds in the animal kingdom. They can grow to be over eight feet in height and reach speeds of over 43 mph (70 kph). Their powerful legs don’t just help them run away from their predators, but they act as a weapon of self-defense, too. Ostriches will kick their predators so forcefully that it can kill them.
But ostriches don’t only rely on their fast speed and powerful legs to keep them alive in the face of danger. Their acute sense of hearing helps them hear incoming predators before it’s too late to run away from them. So, if you’ve ever wondered if ostriches have ears, yes, they do, and those ears are essential to the flightless birds’ survival.
Keep reading to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about ostriches and other birds’ hearing capabilities.
Do Ostriches Have Ears?
Ostriches have acute eyesight and hearing to help them sense nearby predators. Their ears are on the sides of their head, just like ours. It’s hard to see bird’s ears because they don’t have external ear structures like humans, dogs, or other members of the animal kingdom. The feathers on most birds’ heads cover their ears so it looks like they don’t have any at all. In the case of ostriches, though, their head feathers are so small that you can see where their ears are.
How Do Birds Hear Without External Ears?
In most mammals, the structure of the external ear helps to funnel in sounds. This is essential for mammals to determine where sounds are coming from. Though birds don’t have an external structure, they are still able to locate where sounds are coming from. Until recently, it was believed that the lack of external ear structure meant that birds were not able to differentiate between sounds coming from different elevations.
Recent studies suggest that the shape of the bird’s head plays a key role in determining sound location. The study was performed on crows, ducks, and chickens and found that the oval shape of these birds’ heads helped transform sound waves in a similar way to mammals’ external ears.
Depending on where the sound waves hit on the bird’s head, the sounds are either absorbed, reflected, or diffracted. Some sounds will pass right through the head to trigger a response in the opposite ear.
How Well Can Birds Hear Without External Ears?
Despite not having a complex external ear structure like other species in the animal kingdom, birds have well-developed hearing. It’s their second-most important sense after sight.
The hearing senses have evolved to work well as they need it to communicate with one another through songs. Some species of birds, like ostriches, rely on their hearing to pick up on imminent threats of danger.
Avian hearing is sensitive to sounds from 1 to 4 kHz, though they can hear some lower and higher frequencies.
Are There Other Animals Without External Ears?
Yes, there are plenty of other animals that lack the “pinna” (the visible part of the ear outside of the head).
Salamanders don’t have ears, so they use ground vibrations over airborne sounds to “hear.” Snakes also use ground vibrations to hear sounds.
Frogs have inner ears and eardrums that allow them to hear up to 38 kHz, the highest among any other amphibian. For comparison, humans can hear sounds up to 20 kHz.
Spiders don’t have ears or eardrums, so you might think that they can’t hear at all. Spiders actually “hear” (sense vibrations) thanks to the tiny hairs on their forelegs.
Harp seals may not have the outer ear structure, but their interior ear structure closely resembles their fellow mammals. The absence of pinna does serve a purpose in this species as it allows them to accurately determine the direction of the sounds they’re hearing. Their hearing is specially designed for underwater acoustics (1–180 kHz), and their ability to hear is greatly reduced when they’re no longer in the water (1–22.5 kHz).
Can Birds Go Deaf?
Birds can’t go permanently deaf like humans. They can lose their hearing due to loud sounds or trauma, but the hearing loss is only temporary. The sensory hair cells in the inner ears of birds can grow back to restore their sense of hearing back to normal.
Unlike humans and other mammals, birds likely retain their hearing throughout their entire lives. By the time humans are 65, they can lose more than 30 decibels of sensitivity at high frequencies. Hearing loss in humans is gradual and starts with high-pitched sounds like phones ringing or microwaves beeping.
We hope you have learned something new about the hearing abilities of ostriches and other bird species today. While most people don’t find themselves curious about bird ears, it never hurts to teach yourself more about the animals we share this beautiful planet with.
Featured Image Credit: Piqsels